“This is the best bit,” says Irish actress Aoife Duffin in The Crumb Trail, “the bit I love, the darkness, the waiting, the not knowing what’s going to happen next.” Pan Pan, the Dublin company of which Duffin is a member, offers performances saturated with anxiety and incongruity—anything, or everything, might happen next: a taste of the classics, a dollop of story theater, a pinch of psychodrama, a power-pop soundtrack. Pan Pan kneads it all into the mix. First seen here with last year’s marvelous Oedipus Loves You, they’re back for P.S.122’s Coil Festival with The Crumb Trail, a scattered adaptation of “Hansel and Gretel.”
After performer Bush Moukarzel primes the audience with a recap of Pan Pan’s best reviews, the cast delivers a series of confessions—largely centered on the family. Gradually, the actors transform into a family of their own: a woodcutter and his wife and the two children they can’t afford to feed. Lest this sound positively linear, Pan Pan ruptures the action with YouTube clips, Hamlet outtakes, ecstatic dances, mild displays of strength, and even baking. Arthur Riordan, who plays the woodcutter, pours flour, water, and yeast into a bread maker, which jiggles and thrums for an hour, finally delivering a sweetly scented loaf.
Appropriate to a variation on “Hansel and Gretel,” there’s lots of gingerbread here—music, dance, overhead projections, cooking—but little structure to support it. Oedipus Loves You, for all its strangeness, stuck to the Sophoclean story and confined itself to a cramped playing space. This time, director Gavin Quinn hasn’t limited his anarchic impulses. The action departs too often and too willingly from the tale, and the actors seem astray in the expanse of P.S.122’s upstairs theater. Pan Pan loses itself in Hansel and Gretel’s woods—and threatens to lose its audience as well.
This seems deliberate. In a program note, Pan Pan writes, “The Crumb Trail spreads itself in apparently disconnected scenes. . . . It is necessary that the audience links, joins parts, and perceives the continuous modifications of the narrative. What matters is the configuration of the reality, not the story.” This is very nearly nonsense. Yet there’s a precision to the performances that affords the piece cohesion. Despite its best—or worst—intentions, The Crumb Trail arrives at a lucid and rather happy ending.
Happy endings aren’t much on offer in Ella Hickson’s Eight, also at P.S.122, a collection of eight mildly anguished monologues concerned with “the strand of rebellion that runs through a twenty-something. . . . We are a generation without definition, a generation invaded by normal; we are a generation born into a world that has never been so full of voices—and yet we cannot be heard.” Perhaps my very recent transformation into a thirtysomething has inured me to this generational anomie. But, really, grow up.
When Hickson does, a fine writer may emerge, but Eight offers only glimpses of talent and craft amid the self-serious and slightly shocking material. A hit at the Edinburgh Fringe, the play hasn’t entirely translated to New York, perhaps because it includes all the monologues rather than the four-per-show it did in Scotland. We hear from Millie, a cheery prostitute, who bonks the best of British society; Danny, an Iraq War vet, who spends date-night in the morgue; Andre, an art dealer, who offers a bit of a chat while his recently deceased lover dangles from the rafters; and various others. Maybe Hickson’s as kinky and quirky as they come, but one thinks of the author when Andre suggests, “Being subversive’s more a hobby than a necessity.”